The old adage of ‘practice makes a man perfect’ fits well for the game of cricket in India where the demands and expectations have changed in the last decade. With the evolution of Twenty 20 cricket, hike in the pay structure of domestic cricketers and boost in the volume of matches played in various competitions, the requirement for quality players has increased enormously and every single performance makes an impact unlike the case in the past. Therefore for a professional who plays the game for a living, the pressure is twofold to convert every single opportunity into an outstanding performance in order to secure his financial position and aspire to go on to achieve bigger things.
Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) scheduling allows a cricketer to play matches in a series of tournaments and leagues from November when the Ranji Trophy season starts till May when the Indian Premier League (IPL) ends. However for a player, one level below international cricket, the calendar offers not much encouragement during the offseason between May and October due to weather constraints. In Orissa, apart from the Kalahandi cup there is not much to look forward to during this phase. Without match practice, it becomes really challenging for a player to remain in his prime touch and with the calendar getting crowded every season, the onus lies on the individual to prepare himself during the offseason in the best possible manner in order to hold a chance to get spotted by a talent seeker.
This is where the role of league cricket becomes so important. The massive league structure of The United Kingdom (UK)* offers the best solution with cricket being played in the European continent only between April and August. The window of opportunity opens up for every cricketer across the globe who is focussed on making the best usage of the offseason and Orissa cricketers have taken to it like duck to water. It is a culture that started developing in the state during early 2000s and gained significant prominence and as a phenomenon is slowly seeping into the roots of Orissa cricket which will reap benefits for the state in the years to come. The success of many state cricketers can be credited to their proactive step of continuously playing in English league, prominent among them are SS Das, Pravanjan Mullick, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Deepak Mangaraj, Niranjan Behera amongst others. They also need to be recognised for the efforts taken in building a pipeline through which they have over the period introduced many young talented players from Orissa to clubs in various leagues in UK.
Though many view it is an off season bonanza to earn some extra penny in a circuit where the levels are a tinge below first class level yet the importance of league cricket goes beyond the runs scored and wickets taken and plays a significant role in shaping up a youngster’s career. Make no mistake, it is no paid holiday. Performance is the only true friend for the professionals who join these clubs and the moment the graph takes a dip southward, the work ethic and level of commitment comes under scrutiny because for these clubs, the professional is a product they have invested in with an aim to derive the maximum economic value out of him before the season expires.
Apart from acclimatising to new conditions, working on weaknesses and putting in the hard steps away from the constant media glare, this stint offers lessons beyond the cricket field and prepares a cricketer for the bigger challenges that lay ahead. A stint here offers the right experience and exposes the players to turf wickets at quite an early age which is a rarity in Orissa cricket (Though of late, OCA has taken initiatives to encourage clubs to come up with their own turf wickets). Beyond the on field performances, the players get a picture of the global cricketing world which enhances their spectrum and gives them an opportunity to communicate with foreign cricketers and learn their style of game and add new skills to the repertoire. The season also gives them the chance to be involved with the game at an altogether different level by engaging themselves in cricket development projects around the club which might include coaching the kids or preparing a turf wicket or maintaining the ground. All this puts the player in the process that not only enhances his level of confidence and leadership skills but also shapes up his off field mannerism and character. This eventually reflects on their scorecard which can only benefit the teams that they go on to represent in the future.
There have been constant criticism in the cricketing circle of Orissa about the disadvantages of playing league cricket as a youngster and the opinions may be credible however during the offseason it is much better an option to enhance ones credibility and peep into an alternative future rather than wildering in the darkness and whiling away time in public joints doing things that one is not always proud of.
With the past generation of Orissa cricketers having led the path now it is up to the present young generation to take decisions and enrol with clubs in UK in order to prudently shape their careers as league cricket is a way to ensure that opportunity meets luck at the right time at the right place. After all today cricket is a mainstream profession that offers an opportunity to make a living.
* United Kingdom constitutes of England, Scotland and Ireland
(This piece was produced at 1.53am on 31st July 2010 and was published in www.orisports.com on 2nd August 2010)